Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Bowls of the North American Natives



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



With the Indian the bowl serves a multitude of purposes: it is associated with the supply of his simplest needs as well as with his religion. The materials employed in making bowls are stone, especially soapstone, horn, bone, shell, skin, wood, and bark. Bowls are often adapted natural forms, as shells, gourds, and concretions, either unmodified or more or less fully remodeled; and basket bowls are used by many tribes. The use of bowls in the preparation and serving of food is treated under Dishes. Bowls are also used in primitive agriculture for gathering, winnowing, drying, and roasting seeds, and in connection with milling. With many tribes bowls are made from large knots, being hollowed out with fire and the knife.


The most ancient permanent cooking utensil of the Plains tribes was a bowl made by hollowing out a stone. The Blackfeet and Cheyenne say that in very early times they boiled their meat in bowls made of some kind of soft stone. The Omaha and others had excellent wooden bowls, the standard of beauty being symmetry of outline and the grain of the gnarled roots from which they were made. Among many Indians bowls were used in games of chance and divination. In certain ceremonies of the Wahpeton and Sisseton Sioux and of other tribes a game was played with plum-stone dice thrown from a wooden bowl, in the making of which great skill and care were exercised. In some cases the kind of wood was prescribed. Bowls that had been long in use for these games acquired a polish and colour unattainable by art, and were prized as tribal possessions. The Micmac accorded supernatural powers to certain of their bowls, and thought that water standing over night in gaming bowls would reveal by its appearance past, present, and future events. Some bowls were supposed to have mysterious powers which would affect the person eating or drinking from them. Bowls and trays of basketry were used by the Sioux, Cheyenne , Arapaho, and other Plains tribes, though not by the Siksika, in the familiar seed game. These appear to be the only baskets made by these tribes (Grinnell).


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., p. 69.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College